October 19, 2007

On metaphors and people

A few days ago I commented on an Eduwonk entry about Michelle Rhee's wanting more convenient dismissal options for non-unionized central-office staff... and teachers, in part to give some positive reinforcement for the decision to allow comments and in part because there are some interesting ideas in the entry that I wanted to follow up on. (You'll have to go there to see the comments.)

But I looked back at the entry last night, and upon rereading, the last paragraph stuck in my craw:

In the case of D.C., this debate is actually larger than whether Michelle Rhee will be able to fire some people from the central office and some low-performing teachers. It's a proxy for how hard she (and Mayor Fenty) will push on the schools. If they lose this one it's an enormous setback and the wait them out game will start in earnest. If they win, they might not have to fire so many people anyway because it will be a clear signal that business as usual is over. For Rhee, a lot riding on this. Insert your own metaphor here.

While we may think partly in metaphors, I'd prefer to think of debates over the terms and conditions of work in something other than a metaphorical sense. Maybe this is because I like the second formulation of Kant's categorical imperative (the one about not treating people as ends), and if so, I'm a softie for unreadable German philosophers. But I don't think either children or adults are metaphorical vehicles. They're people, and we should talk about them as such.

Beyond that, I think Andy Rotherham is mistaken here about the use of power. I've known plenty of people in academe and the K-12 world who have paid far too much attention to symbols of power, from the all-too-important brush-off in person to stressing the importance of a particular goal for ends far beyond what it can possibly mean in reality. Power is also more subtle than the imposition of one's will through forceful means. The principal who inspires and convinces a school's teachers to work their tails off is more powerful than any petty tyrant who might occupy the same office. The true setback in DC would be if Rhee focuses more on acquiring power than in using it wisely.

Addendum: I realized a fast read of this entry may lead readers to erroneously conclude I think Andy Rotherham is into power games. That's not my argument or assumption at all; I suspect that in his own work environment, Andy pays attention to the interpersonal touch and not to imposition of his will on the people who report to him. Maybe the same should be true in school systems...

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein on October 19, 2007 8:39 AM |